It's been awhile, and I really miss this place. I didn't seem to get much interest in The Ship to Nowhere post in regards to its views, so I guess I'll just work on it in-house. However, in the meantime, I've been writing a bit more straight fiction. This piece is still working, but it resides (roughly) in the same universe as "Via," an earlier work of mine. As always, comments are highly appreciated, and I will do my best to reciprocate.
It had been six hours since Marcus felt its skin. It was comforting the way it sat in his palm, the warm weight of a newborn seeping into his muscles. Afterwards, his fingers felt like so much more.
He remembered its breathing—half-choked motor heaves. Roughly the size of chicken’s egg, ice blue and putty-like, it was the pinnacle. That’s how they marketed it, at least.
Turk had told him it was “simple, really. Like earplugs.”
Marcus’s shoulders twitched.
“But it goes all the way in.”
“So? You put all sorts of shit in there. You ever used a Q-tip?”
“They’re not meant for that.”
The balding, organic-grocery-lean man raised an eyebrow. Turk Little always reminded him of the packrats that skittered around on the old rail. One morning, after spending the night at Melina’s, Marcus fell asleep in one of the dank cars. When he woke, his stop was ten behind him, his shoelaces stripped. He walked the fifteen blocks back to his apartment like a drunken gander, soles flopping at his heels.
“What does that mean?”
“It says so on the box. You’re only supposed to clean household objects. You know, computer keyb-”
“Keyboards?” Turk scoffed. “Get off it. I may be a Pre, but I’m not no fool like you. When’s the last time you used a keyboard?”
He jammed the bottle into his pocket.
“You don’t want it, fine. It’s all fluid to me. But it’s the answer to your question.”
“I’ll take it.”
The man smirked, a set of pipe-tobacco-hue teeth.
“Boy, you’re going to love it. It’s just…it’s just like the real deal.”
Marcus placed 300s in the man’s spider-crab hand; the bottle found its way into his.
He held it up to the pink sunlight.
“Us Pres, we gotta stick together. Like resin, brother.”
Turk loped off, neck ticking as he walked.
Marcus watched him leave, then hailed a Moover. He always hated the things, chattering and whirring incessantly. When it dropped him of in front of Kic’s complex, he leaped from its cabin, inhaling the city air; the taxi’s filter tinged each breath with Freon.
The container pressed against his leg as he rose, and he could have sworn it was pulsing.
Melina Kic lived in the newer district, a carved section of Chicago overlooking Monroe Harbor. From the junky, thistle-choked remnants of Lake Park it was raised, a granite and chrome behemoth of luxury high-rises.
The dockworkers threw a fit when the city sold the land to private developers. They had been lobbying for years to turn the once-lively swatch of grass and elm trees into a port.
Its rights belong to us. We are the backbone of your industry. Without us, your meat spoils in port.
Yet, the dozers congregated, uprooting the elms, their hundred-year roots groaning in pleasure. Long poisoned by sewage, death was a release. When their branches hit ground, it was comforting; something about the way they rested, waiting patiently to be sectioned and pulped. Destined for butcher and towel paper.
The same night they poured the foundations, somebody dumped a few barrels of hydrochloric acid into its wooden frame.
In the morning, there was just sludge.
The foreman laughed when he told his workers about it.
We’re still on schedule. It’s not like this city hasn’t built on worse.
And so it was erected, two-millions the asking price for a base layout. The rich flocked to it, stockbrokers and food-processing tycoons squeezing their bloat through its gold-gilded doors.
Cumulus Corp outfitted the building with transcendent technology. The real treat, though, was the signing bonus: one CLSC YDerm for each child within the three-year implant window.
The Kic family—they made their fortune when the social-networking bubble deflated--had one child, Melina. Surgeons linked the YDerm to her cortex an hour after the ink on the contract dried.
Marcus climbed the pepper-granite stairs, standing motionless at the last step.
A scanner chirped and the doors slid open with a vacuumed hiss.
Autonomy used to unnerve him, but everything was that way now. Doormen and front-desks were keyboards.
The speaker regurgitated, “welcome to Grant’s View.”
He called the opulence-run-amok “Grant’s Tomb,” but never to Melina.
Melina was in the lobby. She wore a V-neck and just right shorts.
Her cheeks dimpled.
“Your face is tired.”
Marcus shuffled his feet.
“I’m sure you have precedents.”
She kissed him, lips like lemon-pepper.
“Let’s go upstairs.”
They rode the lift to the penthouse, her shoulders leaning against his chest.
Her ROVER was waiting. When the elevator opened, it barked electronically like an overexerted floor-speaker. Marcus gave it his obligatory behind the ear scratch, which seemed to sate its circuitry. It bounded off to some far recess of the massive condo, perhaps to gaze longingly at the plush toys its programming forbid it to shred.
He sat down on one of the couches, its memory foam cradling his hips.
Melina frittered in the fridge.
She stood up straight with a bottle of wine in her hand. Marcus watched the cargo ships list out on the smudgy horizon.
A saccharine cork; two half-full, stem-less glasses on the marble bar-top.
She gave him one. It was cool in his hand.
“I’m glad you didn’t go through with it.”
The wine was calcium-dry.
“I bought it,” he said.
Her eyes slid away from his. She set her glass on the coffee table.
“So my opinion doesn’t matter.”
Marcus gulped down the rest of the wine. His belly sloshed.
“You have one. Why shouldn’t I?”
“Because it’s dangerous! It hasn’t been tested!”
“Your parents shoved one into you the moment they had the chance.”
“This is different.”
“Do you want me to be a Pre forever?”
“I don’t care.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I don’t care.”
“This is my chance to be normal.”
“This isn’t normal, Marcus.”
He stood up, pouring himself some more.
“Of course it’s not. Nobody’s born with it. It’s not coded in our DNA. Yet, you have one and it’s everything to you. I walk around, recalling names and places and times and dates; memories spring up—moments of pain and joy—and they rule me. I have no control, Melina. But you, you do.”
“I don’t know life without it.”
The sun touched the water, rays of bloated sick refracting from the chop.
He sipped, speaking through his teeth.
“There’s a reason I’m called a Pre.”
“I wish you wouldn’t use that word.”
Marcus’s nose was hot with indignation.
“It’s apt. We’re the previous humanity. I’m a dinosaur, outdated parts and evolutionary dead-ends. The Red Queen passed me long, long ago.”
“Is that really what you think?”
“I think I deserve a chance to be something more, just like you.”
He pulled the container from his pocket and uncorked it. Melina was motionless.
Holding it up to the fading light, he smiled.
“Look at it. Isn’t it beautiful?”
She was quiet.
He tipped the contents out gently, coaxing the semiliquid thing from its container. It filled the contours of his hand.
Melina watched as he inserted it into his right ear canal. She said nothing as all traces of odd luminescence disappeared into his skull.
“It feels right. It just feels right.”
Marcus woke in his bed. It was just like every morning. Yet, today was March 14th. The pigeons sat at his windowsill. They shit like every day, white and yellow banners curling down to the street.
He checked the NOTEScreen: no messages, null as his apartment. Sans the single mattress and the wall-stretched display, the bedroom was bare.
Melina usually sent quotes throughout the day, So it goes and Didn’t anybody tell you it’s bad manners to go playin’ on someone else’s turf?
He walked from the bathroom, fluoride swill and cLeanASER swipe (a present from Melina) to the living room with a protein block between his teeth; light mother-dog carry.
She was upset, but she’d get over it. In time, she’d see that he was different, changed for the better. And if not? Well, then he’d move on, keep her gifts and words and find something new.
Marcus sectioned the foodstuff cylinder into four chunks. His fingers functioned independently.
He had never done that before.
A Creamsicle tabby mewed at his feet. Marcus rescued it from the undercarriage of a car on a particularly sweltering Sunday. The withered thing fell supine against his forearms and Melina met him outside the penthouse and clucked.
> “You don’t know where it’s been.”
He scratched under its chin. The cat purred unconsciously.
“His name is Miles.”
“Miles? Miles Clark?”
“He’s one cool cat.” /
Miles licked the bowl clean.
Marcus didn’t notice. He was busy trying to access his YDerm. A few months ago, he asked Melina to describe it.
> “It’s something that’s always just…on,” she said.
“Can you turn it off?”
Her neck tightened.
“Yes. I haven’t tried, but I know I can.”
“So there’s a switch?”
“If you want to call it that.”
“Well, what would you say it is?”
She forced a smile, icy lips fracturing.
“Like there’s someone else in there with me. It knows me. It knows what I want, and it reaches into my head and flips through files—all these files—and gives it to me.”
Her voice melted like river-sleet.
“And I can open them, Marcus, and it’s like I’m right there.”
Marcus’s breathing was staccato.
“But it answers to you. You control it,” he said.
Melina nodded mechanically.
“It knows what I want to see.” /
He gave up trying to activate it. Maybe it wasn’t as easy as Melina had made it out to be, it was after all, new hardware.
That made him chuckle.
Marcus was a top dog, now. All those tenants in the Tomb, with their hologram baby grands and laser-cut crystal tumblers, they had nothing on him. They weren’t Pres and they were rich, but they didn’t have what he had.
His YDerm would turn on soon, he’d just have to wait. It was worth it. Boy, it was worth it.
Out the door, double-locked, Miles scratching the frame, past stains and geometric, cartoon-ballooned graffiti to the doorstep.
His head was down as he walked.
> “Marcus, pay attention.”
“Mom,” he whined.
“Alert, Marcus. You need to stay alert.” /
Through the intermittent, Zeus-lung gusts of the city, whipping columns of sand blown from the dry docks, stood the entrance to Graceland Cemetery.
> “Smile, Marcus. Your father will be here soon.”
Marcus shuffled his feet.
“I don’t want to see him,” he said.
“I hate the way his house smells! I hate my bedroom, it’s for old people. All I can see is the Rail and every morning when it goes by it wakes me up.”
“Marcus, wait outside.” /
In 2031, the city signed an initiative to “preserve and beautify” the little plant life that remained within its swollen limits.
Graceland had been first on their list. They had only made it halfway through, hacking down the carcasses of hundreds of maples, when the funding ran dry. So they left the stumps to rot.
Marcus walked through the gates and past the corroded chain-diamond fence.
The air was warmer than the wind-blasted street.
> The pallbearers stopped, wiping their brows.
“Fucking hottest day of the year,” one said, beads of sweat collecting at his stubble.
“Let’s just get her in the hole,” said his father. /
He stood over the headstone. It was fissured and weathered and perfect.
March 14th and Marcus was on his knees in the strangled grass and the bone-rich soil that would forever go to waste.
> “You can go to school if you want, but you gotta walk. I have a meeting, important stuff. You’ll be fine by yourself.” /
Marcus was back on the sidewalk.
The YDerm was working. He was sure of it.
Was this how it was supposed to be? Fragments of memories and sketchy slivers of time? It must be booting. Just like a computer. Warm-up mode.
Soon, he’d be better than them all.
> “Pets are a waste,” his father said. “You think I need another mouth to feed? Leave it, it’ll die quickly out here.”
The rib-jutting retriever wheezed. /
“Destination reached. 20s owed.”
“What?” he said.
The Moover’s AI chirped.
“Grant’s View apartments. 20s owed.”
Marcus tried to exit. The doors remained sealed. The AI tisked.
“Moovee, if you leave the Moover without paying, additional fees may be added. A bill will be forwarded to your personal ID number.”
“Fine, fine. Just open up, dammit.”
With a vacuumed hiss it opened, sunset sunshine blasting Marcus’s face.
> The UniGrav wasn’t under the tree. There were only knacks: fuzzy tops and carbonated candy-bars. /
He was on his knees in the gutter.
> “I’m sorry Mr. Clark, you’ve been denied. The funds aren’t available; the economy, you must understand.” /
Inky vomit stained the bleached concrete.
> Melina laughed.
“Money doesn’t matter, Marcus.”
“Of course it doesn’t—not for you.”
“I can give you everything.”
“And if you can’t?”
“Then you should get it yourself.”
Somehow, Melina’s ROVER was in front of him. It licked his cheek with an alloy-plush tongue.
Marcus wrapped his arms around its neck.
The circuit board best friend whines.
His head hurt like nothing else.
> His mother grinned.
“This world is tough. It’s got nails for teeth and it’ll pulp and mash you if you don’t go for its eyes,” she said. “Can’t you see the dead all around you, Marcus? You’ll get yours someday, but in the meantime, I’m here until you don’t need me.” /
Melina is at his side and she is screaming and there is field-mouse-fear in her voice.
The implant blossoms from his eye, flesh backlit by its odd luminescence. Blood drains from nose like an unplugged spigot.
This is Marcus’s Tomb, not Grant’s.